16 May Urban Adventures Not To Be Overlooked
There are times when my faith in a bright future is renewed. On a recent visit to my childhood home in Los Angeles I had the pleasure of meeting Jamise Caesar, a park aid at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. Not only does this wonderful young lady come from my old neighborhood, she is also a fellow graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in environmental studies. On this beautiful spring day in mid May she was a very capable guide for local members of Latino Outdoors who came to hike the trails of Baldwin Hills and learn about the many native plants and wildflowers that had just begun to bloom.
As a teenager I regularly ran from my parents’ house in Leimert Park to the adjoining community of Baldwin Hills. Just about three miles away it’s the perfect route for an hour-long run with a challenging hill climb in the middle. Back in the early 80’s I enjoyed having the side-walks pretty much to myself. Along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Rodeo Road and Jefferson Blvd the morning commuter traffic streamed by in waves of tailpipe exhaust and the blare of car horns, but seldom was there another runner in sight.
Almost three decades later the route still exists. What’s different though is now literally hundreds of runners, walkers and hikers are heading to Baldwin Hills for exercise. Since I was in high school several parks have been established and developed to encourage area residents to experience the outdoors in meaningful ways. In this densely populated urban neighborhood it’s easy to believe that natural settings such as this are few and far between. But today there is a series of trails lined with trees and many varieties of plant species that lead to a highpoint with a commanding view the Los Angeles Basin. There at the Overlook Jamise welcomes visitors with joyful enthusiasm and generously shares her expertise.
“I really love this job,” she told me, “especially on days like this.”
I just happened to return home for a short visit over Mother’s Day weekend that coincided with a nature hike organized by Latino Outdoors that Jamise would lead. Hoping to encourage people in the community to visit nature nearby where they live and work the group arranged a low intensity wilderness experience with Spanish translation. I tagged along to take pictures and share in the excitement of this simple yet significant encounter with the outdoors. For some in the group this was their first contact with natural world.
“We wanted to give them the chance to do something easy first,” said Latino Outdoors Los Angeles leader Maricela Rosales. “Before we take them on a longer hike or go camping overnight they can learn about being outside and things like ‘leave no trace’.”
An avid outdoorswoman and environmental advocate Rosales hopes that trips like this will help local residents realize that nature is easily accessible by a short car ride or public transportation. Her participants can learn basic skills such as trail etiquette and avoiding bitting insects. As a point of entry urban parks provide an opportunity for even those with limited experience in the outdoors to build a lasting relationship with nature. With any luck they will come to realize that it is not some distant remote location far from home, but it is indeed all around them. These urban adventures led by committed guides like Caesar and Rosales will make a lasting impression. It’s hard not to feel a sense of hope for the future.